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Biarritz, France, 2005-2011

PROGRAM: exhibition area, auditorium, restaurant, cafeteria and offices
CLIENT: City of Biarritz / Adim Sud Ouest
SIZE: 3800 sm
STATUS: completed

The Cité de l'Océan et du Surf Museum intends to raise awareness of oceanic issues and explore educational and scientific aspects of the surf and sea and their role upon our leisure, science, and ecology. The project, designed in collaboration with Solange Fabião, is comprised of a museum building, exhibition areas, and a plaza, within a larger master plan. The building form derives from the spatial concept "under the sky"/"under the sea". A concave "under the sky" shape creates a central gathering plaza, open to sky and sea, with the horizon in the distance. The convex structural ceiling forms the "under the sea" exhibition spaces. This concept generates a unique profile and form for the building, and through its insertion and efficient site utilization, the project integrates seamlessly into the surrounding landscape.
"The energising sense of physical engagement with the sea is palpable in the wave-like forms of the architecture. It's an abstract seascape embedded in the landscape-a mesmeric swell of concrete surging around two glass rocks. ... Holl understands the visceral thrill of communing with the ocean's rollicking power. Such experiences feed through into the muscular yet sensuous architecture."
-Catherine Slessor, The Architectural Review
"Holl and Fabiao's design behaves in an iconic way that differs from architecture in neighbouring Bilbao and San Sebastian. The minimal profile of the building warps up from the land, while maintaining a visual connection to the ocean."
-Caroline James, Mark
"The focus of our attention should be on Holl's wonderful architecture, which is as subtle inside, an imaginative recreation of what goes on "under the sea," as it is outside, where the building encounters "under the sky" what is universally acknowledged to be one of the finest stretches of coastline in the world. This interrelatedness of interior and exterior gives the building an impressive directness of statement that visitors can see as soon as they enter the museum, cross the plaza, linger under the portico or walk off across the roof. Wherever they are in this complex they participate in the dialogue between sea and landscape. ... It is striking that Holl, who has already given us a number of site-sensitive buildings, listened so humbly to what the land and seascapes had to say, confirming the impression that his architecture also comes from a profound exploration of context."
-Federico Nicolao, Abitare
"Since architecture obeys the law of all works of art, which is the condition of being a miniature, here in Biarritz we are invited to contemplate the mystery of the ocean in an enigmatic miniature. It is this quality that gives this architecture its force and beauty. Glowing at night like fragments of fire at sea, reposing like a fragment of seaweed in the air swept up by the wind, one cannot remain indifferent."
-Yehuda Safran, The Plan
"The Cité (de l'Océan et du Surf) is already called only and justly that-Cité-in anticipation of its future role in becoming an identifiable piece or fragment which is more than a building that aims at continuing lines of public space, and, therefore, becomes a zone which can simultaneously reflect and engage Biarritz. At the heart of these transformations are changes in the relative functions and exchanges between programmatic and cultural characters and the realms of aesthetics that explore these new activities and eminently public connections. The architecture team was particularly interested in having an extended landscape design surrounding the building, which could extend and provide more potential for these linkages to evolve. These new relationships emerge as a reformation of that larger character that we know as the city-the reflection on its future role as an exchange center, and the ways in which there might be particular topologies that redefine the connections between the larger environment, institutions and citizens. It is for this reason that, at the Cité, the embracing wave design-which analogically suggests the continuation of folding topologies of the ocean further away-embodies important beginning movements not for its independent figuration, but for its attempt to exercise that continuity as a matter of fact."
-Carla Leitao, Huffington Post
"From one West Coast to another, Steven Holl, who tells of having surfed on the Pacific beaches from Oregon to California, has taken on the Atlantic coast with his first building in France, more precisely in Biarritz. On June 25, the Cité de l'Océan et du Surf celebrates its inauguration. The New York-based architect designed the building with Solange Fabião and in cooperation with French architects Leibar & Seigneurin. Modest in size, the building boasts great spatial richness. With two thirds of it underground, it derives from the concept "under the sky/under the sea." As such, it plays on the concave outside curve to make its rood a public plaza. The ceiling of the exhibition areas is convex, reminiscent of the nearby sea and its waves. The metaphor is drawn out in this complex volume of finished raw white concrete, from which two glass blocks emerge, calling to mind the two large rocks that stand at a short distance. Surrounded by transparent or opalescent glass, these protrusions give off the milky light of paper lanterns. The relationship between the building and the sea is further strengthened in its continuation with the large lawns creating a promenade taking visitors up to the edge of the waves, the real waves that is."
-Architecture D'Aujord'Hui
"When the museum opens in June, its striking architecture and hi-tech exhibits ... should attract over 450,000 visitors annually. Meanwhile, outside on the terrace, the rolling plaza seems to be in dialogue with the crashing waves in the distance. By keeping its eyes firmly on the horizon, Holl's Cite de l'Ocean seems right at home in Biarritz."
-Anya Pope, Wallpaper
"While big urban development projects have become a larger and larger part of Holl's practice, he's best known for inventive cultural buildings, such as the Cite de l'Ocean et du Surf, in Biarritz, France, opening in early 2011. ... the design revolves around a central plaza that Holl describes as 'open to sky and sea, the horizon in the distance.' It proves he's still capable of simple, poetic gestures."


– Steven Holl Architects
Solange Fabião, Steven Holl (design architect)
Rodolfo Dias (project architect)
Chris McVoy (project advisor)
Filipe Taboada (assistant project architect)
Francesco Bartolozzi, Christopher Brokaw, Cosimo Caggiula, Rychiee Espinosa, Florence Guiraud, Richard Liu, Maki Matsubayashi, Johanna Muszbek, Ernest Ng, Alessandro Orsini, Nelson Wilmotte, Ebbie Wisecarver, Lan Wu, Christina Yessios (project team)
– Rüssli Architekten
Justin Rüssli, Mimi Kueh, Stephan Bieri, Björn Zepnik (project team DD/CD)

associate architects
– Agence d'Architecture X.Leibar JM Seigneurin

structural consultant
– Betec & Vinci Construction Marseille

acoustical consultant
– AVEL Acoustique

lighting consultant
– L'Observatoire International

HVAC consultant
– Elithis

general contractor
– Faura Silva, GTM Sud-Ouest Batiment

exhibition engineer

exhibition contractor
– Geroari
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